When Pratap Chandra Sarangi, a BJP MP from Balasore Odisha, took oath on Thursday to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, he received “thunderous applause” from the crowd that had gathered at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the swearing-in ceremony.
After Sarangi’s victory, and especially after the response he received on Thursday, multiple media reports (Read here, here and here) had described him as a bachelor who leads a “simple life” in a “humble house”.
Few of them, however, mentioned that he was the state unit chief of the Bajrang Dal in 1999, when Graham Staines, an Australian Christian Missionary, and his two minor children were burnt alive by activists of the right-wing outfit in the village of Manoharpur-Keonjhar.
Staines and his sons, aged 10 and 6, were murdered by a mob for allegedly forcible converting Hindus in the area.
While prime accused Dara Singh, a member of the Bajrang Dal, and his aide Mahendra Hembram are serving life sentences, Sarangi was never even questioned in the case.
A 2003 report in Frontline says that a commission appointed by the central government had not even examined the role of the Bajrang Dal because it was not an illegal organisation, suggesting that legal organisations could not plan or carry out such heinous crimes.
Sarangi, the report said, had denied the involvement of Bajrang Dal activists in the incident and had not even been cross-examined.
Sarangi, who has also been a part of the VHP, was also involved in an attack on the Odisha Assembly in 2002. He was arrested along with 66 others on charges of arson, rioting and damage to government property
According to his affidavit, Sarangi has 10 criminal cases against him, even thought he has never been convicted in any of them.
None of this information has made it to the fawning articles written about his simplicity.
PTI reported that Sarangi has created a social media buzz because he lives in a thatched house and bathes in the village well. He reportedly depended on party members and rode in auto rickshaws to campaign in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Sarangi was elected to Odisha Assembly twice in 2004 and 2009 from Nilagiri constituency in Balasore district. He had also contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Balasore constituency but was defeated.
Sarangi now holds two portfolios—he is Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises as well as Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries.
(With PTI inputs)